2010 has been good to Egyptian cinema with major international wins by Egyptian films and performers. Hawi received the Arab Film Competition prize at the second Doha Tribeca Film Festival, Microphone won Best Arabic Film at the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF), as well as the Gold Tanit in Carthage amongst others. El Shooq had a major win at CIFF with the golden pyramid. The CIFF best actor award went to Amr Waked for his role in The Father and the Foreignerand Sausan Badr won best actress for her role in El Shooq. Even as the year was coming to an end, Bushra and Maged El Kedwany won awards at the Dubai International Film Festival for best actress and best actor, for their roles in the social commentary/thriller 678.
This year also marks the return of Daoud Abdel Sayed to directing with Rasayel El Bahr (Messages from the Sea), a film that follows the life of a stutterer to his old family house prior to his father’s death. Rasayel El Bahr and almost all the major Egyptian releases worthy of note have been set in Alexandria; namely Hawi, Microphone and El Shooq. Each film, distinctive in its presentation of the city, has rendered Alexandria the star city of 2010.
Movies are difficult to evaluate because they are mirrors of reality. They reflect the reality of life, or the reality of what’s inside us. Yet despite the beauty of some of those mirrors, they are blemished reflections. Some are like clear water, some like muddy water, while others like tinted glass. The result is a picture with different colours and shapes. The object being reflected may be beautiful or grotesque, vital to all or beloved by a select few. The amalgamation of these factors makes each movie personal to its recipient. Some may like the mirror itself, some may like the subject matter and others might be provoked by the thoughts they harness.
Top ten lists are flawed. For starters, it is difficult to choose only ten films. It is also difficult to create an order list because of different tastes. 2010 was marred with bland movies that left a poor impression, but despite a varied reception, some of these films have left such an impression with a strong enough reflection, that they become a part of our reality.
The films that follow have ignited some form of thought or emotion and are presented in no particular order.
Of Gods and Men
On leaving the cinema after Of Gods and Men was screened as part of the Panorama of European film, audiences were divided. On the one hand, the movie can be seen as long, tedious and uneventful, especially the slow pace by which the story, based on true events, is presented. The more patient viewers have been mesmerised by the sheer simplicity of French monks serving a community in Algeria. The battle between faith and doubt, courage and fear is discernable and not idealised. The movie has a hypnotic effect that can take you into the lovely but frugal world of spiritual satisfaction. The movie stirred the longing in many to live in such a way.
Also shown as part of the Panorama of European film was the movie Biutiful, an intentional mis-spelling of the word ‘beautiful’. The movie is how it is spelled, a distorted beauty. A crook tries to find salvation in the ugly world he was condemned to live in. In all its ugliness, and flaws, his tale is abiutiful one. Alejandro González Iñárritu directs a claustrophobic movie, with a heartfelt story and a moving performance by Javier Bardem.
The Social Network
The facebook movie details the life of Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire, and the creation of facebook. The movie is telling of a new generation, whose social realm has extended beyond the physical onto the internet. But besides being pertinent to our time, there is something timeless about The Social Network. The film tackles ideas more universal than facebook like friendship, society, betrayal, fitting-in and knowing what really counts. If there were a ‘like’ button in the cinema, I would have certainly clicked it.
Assal Iswidis for the most part a lost opportunity. The film has been well-received with Helmy establishing himself as a ‘man of the people’ by show-casing real Egyptian problems. However, the last 10 minutes ruined the entire movie’s build-up, rendering it vapid in a manner similar to government propaganda. The effect is the exact opposite of the Sixth Sense, where instead of creating an ending that solidifies a confusing and flaky plot, Assal Iswid’s ending obliterated the concrete foundations that the movie had worked hard to build. The irony is that it did not even require a different ending, it only needed to stop, but it didn’t.
This unsettling movie is not only about the control of State Security over aspects of daily life, but of the eventual and complete surrender to such power, The film strongly reflects on the many practices of modern-day governments. An oppressive government is in need of people to oppress. The film is subtle with music that disseminates a sense of mildness. Voice Over won the best director award in the international competition at the CIFF, as well as the International Federation of Film Critics prize, for its depiction of how living under a dictatorship interferes with the lives of ordinary people.
Sexual harassment explored through the real-life stories of three women from various backgrounds. The film is both an accurate reflection of a harsh reality and an allegory about how sexual harassment damages our society’s ability to function. It is a movie every Egyptian should watch, and hopefully do something about.
Vibrant and full of energy, Ahmad Abdalla’s second feature-length movie Microphone captured the hearts of artists everywhere. Many of the winners of the Cairo International Film Festival have commended Microphone and the artists that were represented in it. The movie is set in Alexandria, with stunning visuals, and tens of real-life artists participating and telling their story.
The story of a woman doing what she must to ensure the survival of her family, is both dark and sincere. El Shooq is superbly shot and the story comes together well, giving us a glimpse of poverty and the destructive nature of egocentric self-preservation. Sausan Badr’s performance is one that will be engraved in the history of Egyptian cinema.
The film is a masterpiece of modern-day film. Director Christopher Nolan brought all the movie-making elements together brilliantly. Inception is a thought-provoking piece of work brilliantly woven. Few movies in the past decade and probably the next few years could live up to its originality. The film takes us between dreams and reality and the result is phantasmagoric.
2010 films to look out for upon release:
True Grit: Jeff Bridges pairs up with the Coen brothers for the first time since The Big Lebowski, this time with a serious movie as in No Country For Old Men, after an Oscar for his role in Crazy Heartlast year. The movie also stars Josh Brolin and Matt Damon.
The Fighter: Christian Bale is a versatile actor whose movies are always something to look forward to. The film is about the boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) in his early years before going pro, when his brother helped train him.
Black Swan: Although the movie is about two ballerinas competing for a part in a performance, there are two reasons to watch this movie: Natalie Portman (Leon, V for Vendetta) and Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream).
127 hours: James Franco (Pineapple Express) teams up with Danny Boyle (Train Spotting, Slumdog Millionaire) to tell this inspirational true story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who spent five days trapped after a boulder collapsed on his arm.
The King’s Speech: A film nominated for seven Golden Globe awards about the stuttering King George VI of Britain. played by Collin Firth.
Rabbit Hole: Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman are a married couple whose son dies in an accident. The film is about the choices each of them makes to cope with the horrible loss.
The Last Days of the City:A film starring the international Egyptian actor Khaled Abdalla. It is about a film-maker reminiscing about the Cairo of his childhood. It incorporates real life stories and explores the idea of lost hopes and dreams.
Hawi: Ibrahim El Batout’s movies have a recurring theme of displacement and coping with loss. Hawi is a bleak picture depicting a conjunction of Alexandrian individuals haunted by their past and struggling to survive. As the name implies, the characters are all jugglers trying to cope with life in their own way. The film is planned for release in Egyptian cinemas in March 2011.
Hereafter: Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial endeavour is, as always has been recently, something to look forward to. The movie stars Matt Damon and tells a story of three people touched by death.